Pay bias persists as change is 'too slow'

Union welcomes narrowing of wage gap but calls for more action. Rebecca Attwood reports

May 11, 2007

Only one university in the UK has a gender pay gap that favours women academics, figures reveal.

A survey of pay by the University and College Union shows that the University of the Arts, London, is the only institution where the average woman academic earns more than the average man, with a 1.2 per cent gap in their favour. This compares with the overall gap between average male and female academics' earnings of 14.1 per cent.

Pay gaps by institution range from 0.3 per cent through to 30.3 per cent. A third have a gap of more than 15 per cent. Ranked from the smallest pay gap to the largest, new universities dominate the top positions, while old universities have the biggest pay disparities. England has the narrowest gap (13.8 per cent), and Wales the widest (16.6 per cent).

Figures show that over the past ten years the gap has narrowed. Average pay for females was about 15 per cent behind that of male colleagues, but there has been a relatively steady decline from 15.6 per cent in 1999-2000 to 14.1 per cent in 2005-06. Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "Good progress is being made in reducing the gender pay gap, but we recognise there is more to do."

UCU and the Equal Opportunities Commission warned that progress was far too slow.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said if the pay gap continued to narrow at the current rate many female staff in universities would reach retirement before achieving parity with male staff.

"The UCU welcomes the news that the gender pay gap is finally starting to narrow overall. However, discrepancies remain. Despite a narrowing gap, we cannot escape the fact that women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts," she said. "Universities need to act now to ensure it is not just the children or grandchildren of current staff that benefit from hard-fought battles over pay equality."

But she said the survey did not yet show the overall impact of the pay framework agreement of 2004, a major aim of which was to achieve equal pay for work of equal value through the use of job evaluation. Most universities started to implement the agreement in August 2006.

Caroline Slocock, chief executive of the EOC, warned that legislation introduced in April meant that all universities would now need to show they were taking action on pay, because all were now subject to the Gender Equality Duty. Ms Slocock said: "While the gender pay gap between full-time academics seems to be slowly narrowing, 32 years after the Equal Pay Act came into effect, the pace of change is simply not fast enough."

The EOC said it would be looking for all higher education institutions to include clear objectives and take action to tackle the major causes of the gender pay gap within gender equality schemes.

Universities that have implemented the National Framework for pay arrangements and have completed an equal pay review will be best placed to begin to meet their legal obligations, the EOC said. "Under the Gender Equality Duty, publicly funded employers must lead the way to help close the gap - not only because it is the law but also to reap the business benefits of having the right people in the right jobs and earning a fair salary," Ms Slocock said.

Universities at the bottom of the table were quick to say they were aware of the disparity and were already taking action.

St George's, University of London, ranks last in the table. Tamsin Starr, communications manager, said it was reviewing its pay structures: "St George's is carrying out an equal pay audit to revisit its pay structures across the board, with the aim of ensuring that there are no pay inequalities that cannot be objectively justified. This is one of the key objectives of the institution's gender equality scheme."

Niall Scott, director of corporate communications at St Andrews University, which has a pay gap of 23.8 per cent, said it was "acutely aware" of the imbalance. "We are investing significantly in early-career academic staff and are appointing an increasingly higher proportion of women to academic posts. We believe it's important to achieve parity not by artificial means but by the application of a long-term strategy that applies stable and sustainable solutions."

A spokesperson for the Royal Veterinary College (pay gap: 24.7 per cent) said: "Twenty years ago, 90 per cent of veterinary students in the UK were male, but that trend is reversed today, with about 90 per cent of incoming students being female. As the profession changes, the composition of vet schools and the careers offered to female researchers in the veterinary professions are improving." She said the college was in the process of developing a gender equality scheme.

rebecca.attwood@thes.co.uk

Case history: 'open shop for all' Ceri Parsons, a 33-year-old senior lecturer in psychology at Staffordshire University, said: "One of the main reasons I have chosen to work in new universities is that more traditional universities often tend to be more focused on experimental psychology, which is not the area I work in.

"But I do think new universities in general have a tendency to be open to a broad spectrum of ideas, and that this inevitably extends to engaging with diversity on a range of levels.

"New universities often have a diverse student population, and that tends to mean they also have diverse staff. I would say there is a fairly even gender split in my department.

"Staffordshire also has a female vice-chancellor, and I think that is good news. There is a good ethos and I think that is because people feel well, and equally, treated.

"I do feel I get fair pay, but I don't necessarily think this is as a result of my working in a new university. Given that new universities are attuned to diversity, you'd expect that barriers to promotion based on gender don't exist, and hopefully it is an open shop for everybody to do well.

"It would be very upsetting to know that a male colleague who was doing the same job as you was getting more pay, but then it would concern me if a female colleague was doing the same job and getting more pay also. I hope the new pay scale addresses this.

"It does alarm me that there is a pay gap in UK universities, but a lot of young female academics are coming up so hopefully when they reach more senior positions it will balance out."

How to make a claim for equal pay

* Talk to someone else for help and advice, or just to rehearse your case, before you talk to your employer. Speak to a trade union representative if you have one

* Gather information on the job you and a colleague of the opposite sex are doing, such as job title, job description, qualifications, length of service, hours, pay and terms and conditions. You can ask your employer to fill out an equal pay questionnaire (available from the Equal Opportunity Commission's website). It is helpful to record or keep a diary of the tasks you and your colleague are doing, detailing the time and skills required to undertake each one

* If you are still employed, take your evidence to your manager, employer or union. Explain that you think you are not receiving pay equal to that of your colleague and ask them to explain the difference. An equal-pay dispute can be resolved informally through your manager, employer or union. In fact, they may welcome this being brought to their attention if they hadn't realised there was a problem, as it helps them to avoid risks in the future

* If an informal approach does not work or you are no longer employed, you can lodge a grievance, such as a written complaint. Your employers may have their own grievance procedure. However, if they do not there are statutory grievance procedures available. The procedure should detail the steps to be taken by you and your employer and the timescales for each step

* If you are not satisfied with the way in which your employer is dealing with your grievance you may wish to consider legal options. If you wish to take this matter further at an employment tribunal you must wait 28 days from the date of lodging your grievance with your employer before lodging an employment tribunal claim. You should get legal advice before you lodge such a claim.

Flexibility key to help women achieve parity

The introduction of the Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) put the onus of responsibility on a woman to challenge discrimination in the courts when she experienced it.

The Equal Opportunities Commission says while this helps stamp out direct discrimination in pay systems, it does not address other causes of the pay gap, such as occupational segregation and the unequal impact of caring responsibilities. More choice at work, including better paid and part-time work options, for example, is an extra measure to help women move up the pay and career ladder, as well as the increasing number of men who want to be involved with family.

Since April, all higher education institutions are subject to the Gender Equality Duty. This places legal responsibility on public authorities to demonstrate that they treat men and women fairly.

For more details visit www.eoc.org.uk or ring the EOC helpline on 0845 601 5901

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